Excuse the terrible wordplay.
The first-ever memory I have of wanting to go somewhere (my first case of wanderlust, if you will) was to wherever the real mountain I had seen my first time at Disneyland was.
For years I was, and to an extent still am, obsessed with the Matterhorn. To add fuel to the hypothetical fire, my mom loved Heidi and would often recount her favorite parts. She was particularly fond of the idea of a little chalet on a green meadow, as well as the fresh milk and golden cheese Heidi would eat. Eventually, I started longing for these things too.
So when I moved to Spain, at the very top of my bucket list was to make my way northeast to visit my aunt, and, my favorite mountain on earth.
Fast-forward to early this morning when my aunt, my cousin, and I were piling into my cousin’s fiancee’s car, who unfortunately wouldn’t be joining us.
After a quick, spur-of-the-moment stop and a coffee at Blausee, we arrived at the Lötschberg Tunnel and the BLS Car Transport that runs through it. It costs 27€ to cross, and connects Kandersteg in Bern and Goppenstein in Valais, cutting through the Bernese Alps. Not to be confused with the longer base tunnel some 400m below it, this tunnel is a little over 100 years old. All information I knew nothing about until I googled it during the 20-minute ride 😂
The ride through the tunnel was quite disorienting, and a little dizzying too. It felt like being whooshed through some sort of time tunnel, indiscernible objects rushing past us in the darkness. What felt like an eternity later, the strong midday sun temporarily blinded us as we drove off of the platform.
Because there are no cars allowed in Zermatt, we parked at the Matterhorn Terminal in Täsch so we could take the shuttle into town. The round trip ticket cost 16.40 CHF. From this terminal, we could also buy tickets to go up to Gornergrat, a ridge home to an observation platform with amazing views of the mountains and glaciers, and the world’s first fully electrified cog railway.
The terminal itself is very large, and it would have to be to handle the more than half a million visitors they welcome each year. I’m going to go on a tangent here very quickly to RAVE about how ridiculously easy and straightforward it is to use the Swiss Federal Statistical Office’s website and databases. As someone who frequently needs access to this type of information and having had encountered my fair share of positively useless and downright confusing government websites, the SFSO was actually fun to use. Each data cube consists of a few simple columns, variables, and a dropdown list to choose how you want to view the data (table, line chart, bar chart, or Excel). That’s it. And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.
The shuttle into Zermatt runs every 20 minutes from 05:55 – 21:55 and takes 12 minutes, which was nowhere near long enough to fully appreciate the mountains we weaved through or the views of the river below. Although the windows are so worn, taking a good picture would be a bit hard.
Zermatt’s population is just a little under 6,000, and according to our friends at the SFSO, it’s classified as a town. A little car-less town, where you wouldn’t really need a car to begin with. Would you even want one when you can see and do and just enjoy everything on foot? Excluding the cases where a car is a necessity, of course.
Looking around the square, I felt like I’d been shrunken down and dropped into a snowglobe. Flurries floated in the air with every gust of wind and melting ice reflected the setting sun.
The main avenue was a mishmash of sporting goods stores, Swiss watch displays, souvenirs, and restaurants ranging from traditional fondues and raclettes to Italian specialties (the Matterhorn is actually right on the border of Italy and Switzerland. The town on the Italian side is Cervinia).
Normally I would have taken more time to explore every nook and cranny of this charming town, but I was a woman on a mission, dead set on finding my mountain. A mountain that had just peeked out from behind the tops of the wooden buildings over by the church.
We let the street guide us through chalets and AirBnBs, small lofts, and larger penthouses, occasionally stopping to admire the charming little houses, much to the chagrin of locals. At least I guess that would be the case.
And there, at the end of Oberdorfstrasse, behind the pines and hills, stood the majestic peak I’d dreamt about for so long. In all honesty, the moment I finally set my eyes on it was slightly anticlimactic. Maybe because I had snuck a peek earlier, maybe because I’d idealized it in my head for so long, or maybe because I was aching to keep going until my legs could go on no more. In no way am I implying it wasn’t spectacular or that I wasn’t extremely happy, but I was expecting to be overcome with emotion the way I had been many times before. Maybe it was knowing that that was as far as I could go.
We stayed around the area where you can find the Forest Fun Park and the Zermatt gondola station. The gondola will take you up to Furi station and then connect to the rest of the very confusing lift network. On the other side of the river, you can walk up to the Gornerschlucht (Gorner Gorge) in the summer and autumn.
With the right shoes and a little more time, we could have walked up the Zmuttweg, an 8.8 km (5.5 mi) moderate loop trail that goes through meadows, forests, and lakes and has amazing panoramic views of the village below (or so we’ve heard).
4 pm sunsets really put a kink in our plans, and between the cold shadow now looming over us and our rumbling stomachs, we thought it best to make our way back into town for dinner. The town felt cozier bathed in the warm glow of the twinkling lights and firepits than it did under the harsh sun and freezing wind from earlier, despite the subzero temperatures.
The already stunning Grand Hotel Zermatterhof looked so inviting, and with every
Among the buildings on our way back to the terminal was a McDonald’s that I would happily have sat down at, continuing my quest to try as many different McD’s menu items around the world as possible. And just look at it! It’s like a chalet on the inside. What’s not to like?
The complicated railway network is much easier to understand with this map that I somehow missed right outside the station, but at that time of the night and being winter, most of them were not operating.
At the station, the Glacier Express had just pulled in from what I can only assume was its last trip of the night. The most famous train ride in Switzerland is definitely meant to be more of an experience than a mode of transportation, clocking in at 8 hours long.
Frankly, it sounds like paradise – I really love trains. One more thing added to the bucket list.
If things had happened differently (as in, not having nearly flopped my thesis presentation, not procrastinated all spring long, not having been wildly detached from my surroundings), I would have been here during the summer and most certainly would have hiked everywhere I could. But it is what it is, and things happen for a reason.
Now I have a great excuse to come back, no?